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Muslim Americans Rich in Diversity

posted on: Jun 21, 2008

As a professor of sociology who studies U.S. Muslim assimilation patterns, I have analyzed numerous nationwide polls of American Muslims on a variety of topics. U.S. Muslims are a diverse, well-informed group; in fact, they are the most ethnically diverse Muslim population in the world. They come from more than 80 countries on four continents. Most are not Arab. Not all are immigrants. None are Barack Obama.

One-fifth are U.S.-born black Muslims (mainly converts), and a few are U.S.-born Anglo and Hispanic converts. The vast majority of Muslim immigrants have lived here 10 or more years, and they resemble the general U.S. population in their socioeconomic status. Most are employed, a quarter have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and a quarter earn $75,000 a year or more.

U.S. Muslims are also like most Americans in another important way: They are not uniformly religious. Nearly half (46.7%) attend a mosque seldom, never or only a few times a year. About one-fourth go weekly, and one-third go more than once a week, proportions similar to those of U.S. Christians and Jews. More Christians say they pray daily than do U.S. Muslims — 70% to 61%.

Because so many are recent immigrants and not yet eligible to vote, only 63% of U.S. Muslims are registered, compared to the national average of 76%. But Muslims are slightly more likely than most citizens to have contacted a politician and, like other racial and ethnic minorities, are a bit more likely to be Democrats.

None of this tells us how U.S. Muslims feel on issues including diversity or how they may vote in November. Predictably, polls show they disagree with the general public on U.S. Middle East policy: A much smaller percentage of Muslims thinks the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan were “the right decision.” But a majority of U.S. Muslims are like most Americans in opposing gay marriage (76% vs. 69%), favoring more government spending for the needy (73% vs. 63%), and disapproving of President George W. Bush’s job performance (67% vs. 59%).

On procreation and gender issues, U.S. Muslims actually line up with the Christian right rather than the general public: 75% of U.S. Muslims oppose abortion and 59% want the government to do more to protect morality in society.

This natural Muslim-Right alliance has yet to be reflected in domestic politics, but perhaps the time is coming. First, though, both politicians and the rest of the American public need to begin seeing U.S. Muslims for who they really are. It turns out they’re far more diverse and interesting than those images of robotically praying men and have a lot in common with mainstream America. It’s time their public image reflected this reality.

Detroit Free Press
Jen’nan Ghazal Read
Associate professor, Duke University, and a Carnegie scholar studying Muslim-American political assimilation.
Durham, N.C.